History of the Memorial Room Collection Page 2

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  Gibson+Bantingbust   Expanded remarks by
Professor Emeritus, Wm. C. Gibson, D.Phil.(Oxon) M.D., F.R.C.P., September 7, 1988 at the dedication of the Historical Collection of the Woodward Library, University of British Columbia.

The Life Sciences Libraries thanks Dr. William Gibson for his kind permission to reproduce his historical comments on the Historical Collection of the Woodward Library.

One afternoon about 1960 I had a telephone call from Dr. Turvey who said, with some urgency in his voice that Mr. P.A. Woodward was in the office which was shared with Dr. Robert E. McKechnie, nephew of a former Chancellor of the Unversity of British Columbia. Turvey whispered into the phone, "You need a medical library, don't you?" I said that we needed one very badly, as we had been relegated to a dark hole in the windowless central core of U.B.C.'s Library building. He agreed and hung up.

Then things began to happen. Dr. McKechnie persuaded Percival Archibald Woodward, known as "Puggy" because of his childhood exploits, to visit the "black hole" where the lights were dim and the place stank of musty papers. I happened upon them by arrangement and outlined to an amazed business leader with an interest in medicine just how hopeless our situation was. He said tersely, "You've got land to burn out here but few real buildings. Let's get to work."

So with daily support from Dr. McKechnie and the skillful stage management of Dr. Turvey, abetted by yours truly and President Norman Mackenzie, one of the trustees of Mr. and Mrs. P.A. Woodward's Foundation, plans were drawn quickly. A sod turning ceremony brought together sympathetic university faculty and deans, presided over by Dr. Phyllis Ross, the Chancellor. The long-time Chairman of the University's Senate Library Committee, Dr. Ian McTaggart Cowan, warmly supported the idea of combining the Life Sciences holdings with those of the Health Sciences which were being built up by the Professor of Anatomy, Dr. Sydney Friedman, a dedicated bibliophile and author from McGill.

Mr. Woodward told the University Architects that he wanted a modular building, with a steel and concrete pillar every 20 feet in either direction, so that any part could be moved to any new location within 20 minutes! His long and successful retail business career was an excellent guide in developing the new Biomedical Library as it was to be styled. As the building progressed we had a cornerstone laying ceremony on a bitterly cold day. With his hat off I thought he would get pneumonia. There was one remedy for all ailments, a glass of milk generously charged with brandy - at 5:30 every day at his home on Marine Crescent. The nurses who cared for Mrs. Woodward - a severe diabetic with several small strokes - wondered why Puggy and I shouted at each other in his panelled library at home.

There he would become enthusiastic about some possible acquisition for his new creation. When I told him that my old friend from Texas days, Dr. Chauncey Leake, would sell us his rare book collection, including a first edition of Vesalius' Fabric of the Human Body for $25,000 he jumped up and down. By the second glass of milk he was shouting "I don't want to build a book cemetery. I want the milestones of science - the first time any new discovery was published. I want the students to see these, and to appreciate that U.B.C. has them. I want them displayed in glass cases, day and night."

And so evolved our method of teaching the history of medicine and related sciences by displays of the great books, done by small groups of students and exhibited in flat, locking glass cases which nearly filled the foyer of the Woodward Library. Dr. Noel Poynter, the Head of the Wellcome Library of the History of Medicine in London was our constant advisor in all of this. He obtained books for us at bargain prices, from around the world. Sir Henry Dale, O.M., P.R.S. as Chairman of the Wellcome Trust gave us 5,000 pounds a year for five years to get started.

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